Athletes inspire pupils during Knowsley Junior School sports week

A GBR para swimmer certainly made a splash as she impressed Knowsley Junior School pupils during their recent sports week.

Tully Kearney with Tommy Bunn, headteacher Vanessa Payne and Paul Shea and Year 4 pupils Sara Ali, Ryan Taylor and Olivia Garlick

Tully Kearney, 22, was one of a number of professional athletes and local sports coaches who visited the Springhead school to share her story and inspire the students.

In a special assembly, the world champion told captivated pupils and teachers how she was born with cerebral palsy so took up swimming aged five as part of her physio treatment.

By the age of eight she started swimming competitively and at 14 she moved to a boarding school to concentrate on the sport and train seven times a week.

In 2013 she entered her first World Championships, aged 16, and came away with a bronze medal, followed by four gold, silver and bronze at the next event two years later.

But then a serious shoulder injury saw Tully side-lined and she decided to take time out to recover and refocus after the disappointment of being forced to miss the Olympics in Rio.

“I had been training for ten years but couldn’t go due to my injury and that was tough,” she said. “I took two years out of the pool to decide what I wanted to do.”

That included studying a physiology degree at Manchester Metropolitan University, from where she has just graduated, and setting her sights on doing a Masters too.

Meanwhile, her passion for swimming resurfaced and she returned to the pool to train for a comeback – which did not quite happen as planned.

Tully revealed: “I had been working really hard to get back to competitions and I had made it to the International Meet at Sheffield.

“But as soon as I dived in, my goggles came off! I couldn’t see anything but I decided I couldn’t give up just because I didn’t have my goggles on.

“I had to use the people stood on the side of the pool to judge the lengths and when to turn. I ended up swimming a personal best and qualified for the European Championships!”

At that competition she went on to win gold and bronze medals and is now working hard in preparation for the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2020.

Tully added: “Being different doesn’t mean you can’t achieve your dreams. You just have to accept that and do it in a different way.”

She also brought along her medals to show the awe-struck pupils, who took turns to hold the heavy accolades as well as hug the popular swimmer.

Her visit was part of national school sports week, during which professional athletes and local sports coaches visited the junior school to give speeches or hold sessions.

Joe Greenwood, a former pupil at Knowsley who is now playing in the Super League with Wigan Warriors, returned to share stories of his life as a professional rugby player.

He also hosted short sessions with pupils to give them some hints and tips on playing the game.

Another visitor was footballer Harry Bunn, who played for Manchester City reserves before moving to Huddersfield Town, helping them win promotion to the Premier League.

Harry, currently playing for Bury FC, answered pupils’ questions including how many goals he has scored and how many times he has been man of the match.

And he named his dad – former player and manager Frankie Bunn – as his inspiration, saying: “Growing up football was the only thing I wanted to do and I have been lucky enough to be able to do it.”

Sessions were also held by Anthony Wilson from Lancashire County Cricket Club, getting the children in the swing of things with different drills and practices.

James Brennan, from Saddleworth Boxing and Fitness, gave the youngsters a taste of something different with his physical routines and activities.

The club, which opened in February, offers boxing and fitness for children and adults and is based on Manchester Road, Mossley. Find out more on Facebook.

Sports awards winners Fraser Mayall, Lily Wilson, Junaid Khan and Toby with Tommy Bunn, headteacher Vanessa Payne and Paul Shea

And coach Serge Modjo introduced many of the pupils to dodgeball, where players on two teams throw balls and try to hit opponents while avoiding being hit themselves.

He was delivering the session for the first time at Knowsley on behalf of Pure Dodgeball Manchester, which works with schools to promote and improve fitness and social skills.

The week of activities was organised by Tommy Bunn, the school’s sports co-ordinator, and Paul Shea, sports coach.

Awards were presented to a sports superstar in each class who had put in extra effort through the week.

Mr Bunn said: “The children have loved it and it’s great to signpost them to local clubs and groups so they can get involved in sports they might not otherwise know about.”

Mr Shea added: “We’ve not arranged for this many visitors come in before, just one or two usually, but the children have really enjoyed them all.”

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